Subliminal Marketing

Is anyone looking for an innovative way to popularize their product or increase sales? Why not use something tried and tested instead; the kind of advertising which will directly connect your product to the human sex and power? Yes, indeed we are talking about the subliminal advertising here. It’s not an age old formulae blindly being followed, instead has only been recorded since 1957 when a researcher called James Vicary inserted the words “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” into a movie in a single frame of a second. The viewers weren’t bothered by it because it was so short a while for that, but it was long enough for the subconscious mind to be craving for the two things. Sales went up by almost 35% overall that day!

So what really is subliminal advertising and how does it work? The meaning of the term ‘subliminal’ is “below the threshold of consciousness”. Hence, the term is coined because the subliminal messages are sent to the subconscious mind. It is that component of brain which controls some key aspects of our body like temperature and memory and also is the primary facilitator to our conscious mind. It is a type of hidden advertising that acts on the consumers’ subconscious mind. They in a very subtle way make people think about the product or something related to the product. They can be projected through very fast imagery projecting on a screen (in or within pictures), or even as slogans. It is created by the communication technician as a deliberate process whereby the receiver receives and responds to information without even realising it. The idea behind it is simple- anything that is perceived by a conscious mind may or may not be perceived, can easily be criticized and rejected. On the other hand, anything that is programmed in a person’s subconscious mind will not only enter resistance free but will also have a positive lingering effect.

A Harvard study (1999), employed a similar research like Vicary’s — subjects of the experiment played a computer game in which a series of words flashed before them for only a few thousandths of a second. One set of people got positive words like “wise”, “astute” and “accomplished.” The other set got words like “senile”, “dependent” and “diseased”. Even though the words that flashed moved very quickly to be consciously perceived, the subjects who received positive words exited the room significantly faster than those who got negative words.

Now let’s go into the real world examples which have been implemented.


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The FedEx logo looks like a plain text based logo but if you take a second look between the E and the x, you will see an arrow which represents the speed and accuracy of the company’s deliveries.


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The Amazon logo is an extremely simple logo and while the arrow may just look like a smile, it actually points from ‘a’ to ‘z’. This represents that Amazon sells everything from A to Z and the smile on the customers face when they buy a product.


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There is a tiny dollar bill in the KFC burger to subconsciously induce wealth and power a consumer can obtain by eating a burger from their company.


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In this advertisement, all we can see is a woman harmlessly raising a toast, right? Think again.

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It’s actually an imagery of a woman pleasuring herself.

In conclusion, subliminal messages might have the potential of expansion of  influence/power from the fact that they may be able to sidestep the critical functions of the conscious mind, and it has often been argued that subliminal suggestions are therefore, potentially more powerful than ordinary suggestions. But on the contrary, many research findings do not support the conclusion that subliminal suggestions are peculiarly powerful. The mass is divided into believers and non-believers of it. And not too many experiments have been conducted to be able to state anything as a matter of fact. That was perhaps a major reason why I wanted to shed some light on it.

Suryansh Goel is a PGP student(2014 – 16) in IIM Ahmedabad


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